Peveril of the Peak, by Walter Scott

Chapter 9

Bessus. —’Tis a challenge, sir, is it not?

Gentleman. —’Tis an inviting to the field.

King and No King.

For a day or two after this forcible expulsion from the vicarage, Mr. Solsgrace continued his residence at Moultrassie Hall, where the natural melancholy attendant on his situation added to the gloom of the owner of the mansion. In the morning, the ejected divine made excursions to different families in the neighbourhood, to whom his ministry had been acceptable in the days of his prosperity, and from whose grateful recollections of that period he now found sympathy and consolation. He did not require to be condoled with, because he was deprived of an easy and competent maintenance, and thrust out upon the common of life, after he had reason to suppose he would be no longer liable to such mutations of fortune. The piety of Mr. Solsgrace was sincere; and if he had many of the uncharitable prejudices against other sects, which polemical controversy had generated, and the Civil War brought to a head, he had also that deep sense of duty, by which enthusiasm is so often dignified, and held his very life little, if called upon to lay it down in attestation of the doctrines in which he believed. But he was soon to prepare for leaving the district which Heaven, he conceived, had assigned to him as his corner of the vineyard; he was to abandon his flock to the wolf — was to forsake those with whom he had held sweet counsel in religious communion — was to leave the recently converted to relapse into false doctrines, and forsake the wavering, whom his continued cares might have directed into the right path — these were of themselves deep causes of sorrow, and were aggravated, doubtless, by those natural feelings with which all men, especially those whose duties or habits have confined them to a limited circle, regard the separation from wonted scenes, and their accustomed haunts of solitary musing, or social intercourse.

There was, indeed, a plan of placing Mr. Solsgrace at the head of a nonconforming congregation in his present parish, which his followers would have readily consented to endow with a sufficient revenue. But although the act for universal conformity was not yet passed, such a measure was understood to be impending, and there existed a general opinion among the Presbyterians, that in no hands was it likely to be more strictly enforced, than in those of Peveril of the Peak. Solsgrace himself considered not only his personal danger as being considerable — for, assuming perhaps more consequence than was actually attached to him or his productions, he conceived the honest Knight to be his mortal and determined enemy — but he also conceived that he should serve the cause of his Church by absenting himself from Derbyshire.

“Less known pastors,” he said, “though perhaps more worthy of the name, may be permitted to assemble the scattered flocks in caverns or in secret wilds, and to them shall the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim be better than the vintage of Abiezer. But I, that have so often carried the banner forth against the mighty — I, whose tongue hath testified, morning and evening, like the watchman upon the tower, against Popery, Prelacy, and the tyrant of the Peak — for me to abide here, were but to bring the sword of bloody vengeance amongst you, that the shepherd might be smitten, and the sheep scattered. The shedders of blood have already assailed me, even within that ground which they themselves call consecrated; and yourselves have seen the scalp of the righteous broken, as he defended my cause. Therefore, I will put on my sandals, and gird my loins, and depart to a far country, and there do as my duty shall call upon me, whether it be to act or to suffer — to bear testimony at the stake or in the pulpit.”

Such were the sentiments which Mr. Solsgrace expressed to his desponding friends, and which he expatiated upon at more length with Major Bridgenorth; not failing, with friendly zeal, to rebuke the haste which the latter had shown to thrust out the hand of fellowship to the Amalekite woman, whereby he reminded him, “He had been rendered her slave and bondsman for a season, like Samson, betrayed by Delilah, and might have remained longer in the house of Dagon, had not Heaven pointed to him a way out of the snare. Also, it sprung originally from the Major’s going up to feast in the high place of Baal, that he who was the champion of the truth was stricken down, and put to shame by the enemy, even in the presence of the host.”

These objurgations seeming to give some offence to Major Bridgenorth, who liked, no better than any other man, to hear of his own mishaps, and at the same time to have them imputed to his own misconduct, the worthy divine proceeded to take shame to himself for his own sinful compliance in that matter; for to the vengeance justly due for that unhappy dinner at Martindale Castle (which was, he said, a crying of peace when there was no peace, and a dwelling in the tents of sin), he imputed his ejection from his living, with the destruction of some of his most pithy and highly prized volumes of divinity, with the loss of his cap, gown, and band, and a double hogshead of choice Derby ale.

The mind of Major Bridgenorth was strongly tinged with devotional feeling, which his late misfortunes had rendered more deep and solemn; and it is therefore no wonder, that, when he heard these arguments urged again and again, by a pastor whom he so much respected, and who was now a confessor in the cause of their joint faith, he began to look back with disapproval on his own conduct, and to suspect that he had permitted himself to be seduced by gratitude towards Lady Peveril, and by her special arguments in favour of a mutual and tolerating liberality of sentiments, into an action which had a tendency to compromise his religious and political principles.

One morning, as Major Bridgenorth had wearied himself with several details respecting the arrangement of his affairs, he was reposing in the leathern easy-chair, beside the latticed window, a posture which, by natural association, recalled to him the memory of former times, and the feelings with which he was wont to expect the recurring visit of Sir Geoffrey, who brought him news of his child’s welfare — “Surely,” he said, thinking, as it were, aloud, “there was no sin in the kindness with which I then regarded that man.”

Solsgrace, who was in the apartment, and guessed what passed through his friend’s mind, acquainted as he was with every point of his history, replied —“When God caused Elijah to be fed by ravens, while hiding at the brook Cherith, we hear not of his fondling the unclean birds, whom, contrary to their ravening nature, a miracle compelled to minister to him.”

“It may be so,” answered Bridgenorth, “yet the flap of their wings must have been gracious in the ear of the famished prophet, like the tread of his horse in mine. The ravens, doubtless, resumed their nature when the season was passed, and even so it has fared with him. — Hark!” he exclaimed, starting, “I hear his horse’s hoof tramp even now.”

It was seldom that the echoes of that silent house and courtyard were awakened by the trampling of horses, but such was now the case.

Both Bridgenorth and Solsgrace were surprised at the sound, and even disposed to anticipate some farther oppression on the part of the government, when the Major’s old servant introduced, with little ceremony (for his manners were nearly as plain as his master’s), a tall gentleman on the farther side of middle life, whose vest and cloak, long hair, slouched hat and drooping feather, announced him as a Cavalier. He bowed formally, but courteously, to both gentlemen, and said, that he was “Sir Jasper Cranbourne, charged with an especial message to Master Ralph Bridgenorth of Moultrassie Hall, by his honourable friend Sir Geoffrey Peveril of the Peak, and that he requested to know whether Master Bridgenorth would be pleased to receive his acquittal of commission here or elsewhere.”

“Anything which Sir Geoffrey Peveril can have to say to me,” said Major Bridgenorth, “may be told instantly, and before my friend, from whom I have no secrets.”

“The presence of any other friend were, instead of being objectionable, the thing in the world most to be desired,” said Sir Jasper, after a moment’s hesitation, and looking at Mr. Solsgrace; “but this gentleman seems to be a sort of clergyman.”

“I am not conscious of any secrets,” answered Bridgenorth, “nor do I desire to have any, in which a clergyman is unfitting confidant.”

“At your pleasure,” replied Sir Jasper. “The confidence, for aught I know, may be well enough chosen, for your divines (always under your favour) have proved no enemies to such matters as I am to treat with you upon.”

“Proceed, sir,” answered Mr. Bridgenorth gravely; “and I pray you to be seated, unless it is rather your pleasure to stand.”

“I must, in the first place, deliver myself of my small commission,” answered Sir Jasper, drawing himself up; “and it will be after I have seen the reception thereof, that I shall know whether I am, or am not, to sit down at Moultrassie Hall. — Sir Geoffrey Peveril, Master Bridgenorth, hath carefully considered with himself the unhappy circumstances which at present separate you as neighbours. And he remembers many passages in former times — I speak his very words — which incline him to do all that can possibly consist with his honour, to wipe out unkindness between you; and for this desirable object, he is willing to condescend in a degree, which, as you could not have expected, it will no doubt give you great pleasure to learn.”

“Allow me to say, Sir Jasper,” said Bridgenorth, “that this is unnecessary. I have made no complaints of Sir Geoffrey — I have required no submission from him — I am about to leave this country; and what affairs we may have together, can be as well settled by others as by ourselves.”

“In a word,” said the divine, “the worthy Major Bridgenorth hath had enough of trafficking with the ungodly, and will no longer, on any terms, consort with them.”

“Gentleman both,” said Sir Jasper, with imperturbable politeness, bowing, “you greatly mistake the tenor of my commission, which you will do as well to hear out, before making any reply to it. — I think, Master Bridgenorth, you cannot but remember your letter to the Lady Peveril, of which I have here a rough copy, in which you complain of the hard measure which you have received at Sir Geoffrey’s hand, and, in particular, when he pulled you from your horse at or near Hartley-nick. Now, Sir Geoffrey thinks so well of you, as to believe, that, were it not for the wide difference betwixt his descent and rank and your own, you would have sought to bring this matter to a gentleman-like arbitrament, as the only mode whereby your stain may be honourably wiped away. Wherefore, in this slight note, he gives you, in his generosity, the offer of what you, in your modesty (for to nothing else does he impute your acquiescence), have declined to demand of him. And withal, I bring you the measure of his weapon; and when you have accepted the cartel which I now offer you, I shall be ready to settle the time, place, and other circumstances of your meeting.”

“And I,” said Solsgrace, with a solemn voice, “should the Author of Evil tempt my friend to accept of so bloodthirsty a proposal, would be the first to pronounce against him sentence of the greater excommunication.”

“It is not you whom I address, reverend sir,” replied the envoy; “your interest, not unnaturally, may determine you to be more anxious about your patron’s life than about his honour. I must know, from himself, to which he is disposed to give the preference.”

So saying, and with a graceful bow, he again tendered the challenge to Major Bridgenorth. There was obviously a struggle in that gentleman’s bosom, between the suggestions of human honour and those of religious principle; but the latter prevailed. He calmly waived receiving the paper which Sir Jasper offered to him, and spoke to the following purpose:—“It may not be known to you, Sir Jasper, that since the general pouring out of Christian light upon this kingdom, many solid men have been led to doubt whether the shedding human blood by the hand of a fellow-creature be in any respect justifiable. And although this rule appears to me to be scarcely applicable to our state in this stage of trial, seeing that such non-resistance, if general, would surrender our civil and religious rights into the hands of whatsoever daring tyrants might usurp the same; yet I am, and have been, inclined to limit the use of carnal arms to the case of necessary self-defence, whether such regards our own person, or the protection of our country against invasion; or of our rights of property, and the freedom of our laws and of our conscience, against usurping power. And as I have never shown myself unwilling to draw my sword in any of the latter causes, so you shall excuse my suffering it now to remain in the scabbard, when, having sustained a grievous injury, the man who inflicted it summons me to combat, either upon an idle punctilio, or, as is more likely, in mere bravado.”

“I have heard you with patience,” said Sir Jasper; “and now, Master Bridgenorth, take it not amiss, if I beseech you to bethink yourself better on this matter. I vow to Heaven, sir, that your honour lies a-bleeding; and that in condescending to afford you this fair meeting, and thereby giving you some chance to stop its wounds, Sir Geoffrey has been moved by a tender sense of your condition, and an earnest wish to redeem your dishonour. And it will be but the crossing of your blade with his honoured sword for the space of some few minutes, and you will either live or die a noble and honoured gentleman. Besides, that the Knight’s exquisite skill of fence may enable him, as his good-nature will incline him, to disarm you with some flesh wound, little to the damage of your person, and greatly to the benefit of your reputation.”

“The tender mercies of the wicked,” said Master Solsgrace emphatically, by way of commenting on this speech, which Sir Jasper had uttered very pathetically, “are cruel.”

“I pray to have no farther interruption from your reverence,” said Sir Jasper; “especially as I think this affair very little concerns you; and I entreat that you permit me to discharge myself regularly of my commission from my worthy friend.”

So saying, he took his sheathed rapier from his belt, and passing the point through the silk thread which secured the letter, he once more, and literally at sword point, gracefully tendered it to Major Bridgenorth who again waved it aside, though colouring deeply at the same time, as if he was putting a marked constraint upon himself — drew back, and made Sir Jasper Cranbourne a deep bow.

“Since it is to be thus,” said Sir Jasper, “I must myself do violence to the seal of Sir Geoffrey’s letter, and read it to you, that I may fully acquit myself of the charge entrusted to me, and make you, Master Bridgenorth, equally aware of the generous intentions of Sir Geoffrey on your behalf.”

“If,” said Major Bridgenorth, “the contents of the letter be to no other purpose than you have intimated, methinks farther ceremony is unnecessary on this occasion, as I have already taken my course.”

“Nevertheless,” said Sir Jasper, breaking open the letter, “it is fitting that I read to you the letter of my worshipful friend.” And he read accordingly as follows:—

For the worthy hands of Ralph Bridgenorth, Esquire, of Moultrassie Hall — These:

“By the honoured conveyance of the Worshipful Sir Jasper Cranbourne, Knight, of Long-Mallington.

“Master Bridgenorth — We have been given to understand by your letter to our loving wife, Dame Margaret Peveril, that you hold hard construction of certain passages betwixt you and I, of a late date, as if your honour should have been, in some sort, prejudiced by what then took place. And although you have not thought it fit to have direct recourse to me, to request such satisfaction as is due from one gentleman of condition to another, yet I am fully minded that this proceeds only from modesty, arising out of the distinction of our degree, and from no lack of that courage which you have heretofore displayed, I would I could say in a good cause. Wherefore I am purposed to give you, by my friend, Sir Jasper Cranbourne, a meeting, for the sake of doing that which doubtless you entirely long for. Sir Jasper will deliver you the length of my weapon, and appoint circumstances and an hour for our meeting; which, whether early or late — on foot or horseback — with rapier or backsword — I refer to yourself, with all the other privileges of a challenged person; only desiring, that if you decline to match my weapon, you will send me forthwith the length and breadth of your own. And nothing doubting that the issue of this meeting must needs be to end, in one way or other, all unkindness betwixt two near neighbours — I remain, your humble servant to command,

“Geoffrey Peveril of the Peak.

“Given from my poor house of Martindale Castle, this same __ of __, sixteen hundred and sixty.”

“Bear back my respects to Sir Geoffrey Peveril,” said Major Bridgenorth. “According to his light, his meaning may be fair towards me; but tell him that our quarrel had its rise in his own wilful aggression towards me; and that though I wish to be in charity with all mankind, I am not so wedded to his friendship as to break the laws of God, and run the risk of suffering or committing murder, in order to regain it. And for you, sir, methinks your advanced years and past misfortunes might teach you the folly of coming on such idle errands.”

“I shall do your message, Master Ralph Bridgenorth,” said Sir Jasper; “and shall then endeavour to forget your name, as a sound unfit to be pronounced, or even remembered, by a man of honour. In the meanwhile, in return for your uncivil advice, be pleased to accept of mine; namely, that as your religion prevents your giving a gentleman satisfaction, it ought to make you very cautious of offering him provocation.”

So saying, and with a look of haughty scorn, first at the Major, and then at the divine, the envoy of Sir Geoffrey put his hat on his head, replaced his rapier in its belt, and left the apartment. In a few minutes afterwards, the tread of his horse died away at a considerable distance.

Bridgenorth had held his hand upon his brow ever since his departure, and a tear of anger and shame was on his face as he raised it when the sound was heard no more. “He carries this answer to Martindale Castle,” he said. “Men will hereafter think of me as a whipped, beaten, dishonourable fellow, whom every one may baffle and insult at their pleasure. It is well I am leaving the house of my father.”

Master Solsgrace approached his friend with much sympathy, and grasped him by the hand. “Noble brother,” he said, with unwonted kindness of manner, “though a man of peace, I can judge what this sacrifice hath cost to thy manly spirit. But God will not have from us an imperfect obedience. We must not, like Ananias and Sapphira, reserve behind some darling lust, some favourite sin, while we pretend to make sacrifice of our worldly affections. What avails it to say that we have but secreted a little matter, if the slightest remnant of the accursed thing remain hidden in our tent? Would it be a defence in thy prayers to say, I have not murdered this man for the lucre of gain, like a robber — nor for the acquisition of power, like a tyrant — nor for the gratification of revenge, like a darkened savage; but because the imperious voice of worldly honour said, ‘Go forth — kill or be killed — is it not I that have sent thee?’ Bethink thee, my worthy friend, how thou couldst frame such a vindication in thy prayers; and if thou art forced to tremble at the blasphemy of such an excuse, remember in thy prayers the thanks due to Heaven, which enabled thee to resist the strong temptation.”

“Reverend and dear friend,” answered Bridgenorth, “I feel that you speak the truth. Bitterer, indeed, and harder, to the old Adam, is the text which ordains him to suffer shame, than that which bids him to do valiantly for the truth. But happy am I that my path through the wilderness of this world will, for some space at least, be along with one, whose zeal and friendship are so active to support me when I am fainting in the way.”

While the inhabitants of Moultrassie Hall thus communicated together upon the purport of Sir Jasper Cranbourne’s visit, that worthy knight greatly excited the surprise of Sir Geoffrey Peveril, by reporting the manner in which his embassy had been received.

“I took him for a man of other metal,” said Sir Geoffrey; —“nay, I would have sworn it, had any one asked my testimony. But there is no making a silken purse out of a sow’s ear. I have done a folly for him that I will never do for another: and that is, to think a Presbyterian would fight without his preacher’s permission. Give them a two hours’ sermon, and let them howl a psalm to a tune that is worse than the cries of a flogged hound, and the villains will lay on like threshers; but for a calm, cool, gentleman-like turn upon the sod, hand to hand, in a neighbourly way, they have not honour enough to undertake it. But enough of our crop-eared cur of a neighbour. — Sir Jasper, you will tarry with us to dine, and see how Dame Margaret’s kitchen smokes; and after dinner I will show you a long-winged falcon fly. She is not mine, but the Countess’s, who brought her from London on her fist almost the whole way, for all the haste she was in, and left her with me to keep the perch for a season.”

This match was soon arranged, and Dame Margaret overheard the good Knight’s resentment mutter itself off, with those feelings with which we listen to the last growling of the thunderstorm; which, as the black cloud sinks beneath the hill, at once assures us that there has been danger, and that the peril is over. She could not, indeed, but marvel in her own mind at the singular path of reconciliation with his neighbour which her husband had, with so much confidence, and in the actual sincerity of his goodwill to Mr. Bridgenorth, attempted to open; and she blessed God internally that it had not terminated in bloodshed. But these reflections she locked carefully within her own bosom, well knowing that they referred to subjects in which the Knight of the Peak would neither permit his sagacity to be called in question, nor his will to be controlled.

The progress of the history hath hitherto been slow; but after this period so little matter worth of mark occurred at Martindale, that we must hurry over hastily the transactions of several years.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00